2010 FIFA and the Inner Child

The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa runs June 11-July 11.

What do your childhood dreams have to do with competing at the World Cup and in the Olympics? Read on to find out, and post a comment on how you think dreams take hold in our lives, and ultimately impact our performance.

John Collins was four when it happened. Bob Lenarduzzi was 11. And Jason De Vos was 12. That’s when the dream of playing in the World Cup took hold for each of these remarkable athletes.

The three saw their dreams unfold differently, but they find themselves together now working as commentators for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Their testimonials at the CBC’s pre-tournament seminar in Toronto earlier this week were easily the highlight of the meetings, underscoring the excitement around what’s expected to be the most watched World Cup event ever in Canada.

John Collins played for 19 years.

Collins says his dream was not unlike that of most kids growing up in his native Scotland, except that his came true. His passion to kick the ball sparked a tremendous career, which was highlighted by the goal he scored on a penalty kick in the 1998 World Cup in a game against Brazil.

Bob Lenarduzzi (l) and Carl Valentine (r) with the Vancouver White Caps in 1980-81.

Lenarduzzi wasn’t lucky enough to score a World Cup goal. In fact, the whole1986 Canadian side (which is still the only Canadian team to make it to the World Cup) failed to score a goal in their three World Cup losses. Still, Lenarduzzi is understandably sentimental about his participation in the world’s biggest sporting event.  At the seminar, he recalled that watching England’s 1966 World Cup victory is what sparked his imagination. Still not a teenager, he told himself that he’d one day play in the World Cup.

Jason De Vos played 49 internationals, scoring 4 goals.

Similarly, De Vos was inspired by watching Lenarduzzi and his Canadian mates take to the world stage in that ’86 tournament.  De Vos’ dream never did materialize, as the national teams he was part of failed to qualify.  It remains, he said, the biggest disappointment in his life.

What struck me about listening to the three of them was the unprompted references to their childhood dreams. Later, Lenarduzzi would say that he hopes the 2010 World Cup will inspire a lot more little Johnny’s, Jason’s, and Bobby’s.

The thread immediately made me think of my experience covering Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined at the Winter Olympics. Over and over, athletes made reference to childhood dreams. More significantly, they talked about connecting (or, in some cases, reconnecting) with the feeling they had as children when first practicing their sport.

Here are two examples:

Swiss jumper Simon Ammann back 2002, at Salt Lake City Games

I felt after all these years that I was able to do these long jumps and to get the acceleration at the take-off into my body. That’s a feeling which is always the same since I started when I was a little boy. Seeking that feeling is what’s kept me in ski jumping. Since I won the World Championship Title in Sapporo in Japan, I feel free and it’s even more interesting than it was  before.” – Simon “Harry Potter” Ammann, the Swiss jumper who won two gold medals, repeating his 2002 exploit, and coming back from a disastrous performance in 2006.

Bill Demong and his gold medal skis!

I was steeped in those stories as a small child, just as I started skiing and diving into my own dreams. You know growing up in that town (Lake Placid) — where the most obvious man-made structure in a radius of a 150 miles is the K-120 ski jump — it was easy to sort of daydream about Olympic things.” – Bill Demong, the American gold medalist in the large hill Nordic Combined, who constantly frames his recent success with the back story of his childhood.

"Child with a Dove" by Pablo Picasso

The relationship between elite performance and the inner child always reminds me of this Pablo Picasso line I once read: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  If one accepts that there’s a level of artistry when anyone performs at their best in sport, then the challenge is partly to harness the inner child.

When Collins, Lenarduzzi, and De Vos analyze the action from South Africa for CBC TV this summer, they’ll do more than break down the X’s and O’s of offense and defense. They’ll also be looking for those who maximize their passion for the game, highlighting the ones who run and kick like men, but move with the freedom and imagination of children.

Some say Argentina's Lionel Messi is the top artist in the game today.

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